If your furry friend is your top travel companion, you know that along with the joys of adventuring with your pup come some limitations. In order to preserve delicate ecosystems and protect vulnerable species, many state and national parks don’t allow dogs beyond the campgrounds. And as much as dogs love running free in the sand and waves, this isn’t welcomed at all beaches.
These restrictions don’t mean you need to leave your pup at home –– you just need to know where to go! Here are the best spots to stop for beach days (and the most scenic dog-friendly campsites) for your California coastal road trip.
Starting down in San Diego, visit Del Mar Dog Beach. Dogs are allowed on leash in the summer, and can run free off leash in the off season. Since “off-season” usually still means 70’s and sunny, we’ll take a San Diego beach day all year long.
For camping anywhere in San Diego, plan ahead! Coastal campsites book out months in advance around here. With a few months’ notice, San Elijo State Beach is our ideal option around here. This oceanfront campground allows dogs, and the dog-friendly Cardiff State Beach is a short walk south of here.
The Huntington Dog Beach not only allows dogs, it caters to them –– with doggy drinking fountains and waste bags provided. Your pup can run free in the sand all day long, and you can end the day with a visit to one of Surf City USA’s many dog-friendly restaurants.
Despite having some of the best beaches, Orange County is surprisingly low on coastal campgrounds. For self-contained vehicle camping (which includes Cabana!) reserve a spot at Bolsa Chica State Beach, 10 minutes north of Huntington’s main beach. Dogs are allowed in the campground and on the trails, but not on the sand here. Good thing you had a long day at Huntington Dog Beach to tire them out first!
If you’re headed to beautiful Santa Barbara, Arroyo Burro Beach is the place to be for pups. Known locally as Hendry’s Beach, this is a great spot for scenic walks and splashing in the waves. Dogs must be leashed in the park, but they can run free on the beach east of the creek. Self-serve dog wash stations are available. (With Cabana, the outdoor shower in the back of the van will do the trick, though.)
When heading up the coast, our go-to Santa Barbara campsite is a half hour north of Hendry’s. For a coastal campground, Gaviota State Park usually has a bit more availability than some of the other California state parks, making it an excellent option for a slightly more last-minute escape. Dogs are allowed in the campground and the day-use area, but not on the beach here.
For guests using our Concierge service, Morro Bay is one of the most popular destinations for dog owners! At Morro Rock Beach, you’ll be able to take in the iconic ocean view with your pup on a leash. At Morro Bay Dog Beach (also known as Toro Creek Beach), your dog can run off leash. This stretch of beach lies between the two sections of Morro Strand State Beach.
With easily accessible viewpoints, dog-friendly restaurants, and even dog-friendly boat trips, it’s no surprise that Morro Bay is a favorite stopping point. Reserve a campsite at Morro Bay State Park, where dogs are allowed in the campgrounds and on most trails.
Big Sur is without a doubt one of the most beautiful locations on California’s coast. Unfortunately, you’ll have to leave your pup at home to enjoy the trails and beaches in Big Sur state parks. If you’re traveling up Highway 1 with your furry companion, stop instead at Sand Dollar Beach, south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. It’s a great location for surfing and searching for beautiful jade stones. Dogs are allowed on leash at this beach.
Big Sur is another area where you’ll want to reserve a campsite far in advance for peak summer months. For the fall, you should still be able to snag a campsite at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park a month out. For less crowded viewpoints (and better surfing waves, by the way) fall is an ideal time for the Central Coast.
If you’re visiting Monterey, head to Carmel-by-the-Sea for a beach you and your dog will both love. With how beautiful Carmel Beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea is, it might surprise you that dogs are allowed off leash here. This beach is great for swimming, surfing, and enjoying the scenery.
There aren’t great camping options in Monterey County, but drive about 40 minutes up the coast to Sunset State Beach for an underrated coastal stay. Dogs aren’t allowed on the beach here, but they’re allowed in the campsite. The beach is natural, scenic, and quiet. There isn’t much in the way of restaurants or activities nearby, but it’s a nice spot for a quiet stopover.
Santa Cruz is a quintessential beach town. If you’re planning a coastal road trip, it should not be forgotten. Your dogs won’t be able to join you on the boardwalk, but they can still get in on the Santa Cruz fun! Visit Its Beach (also known as Lighthouse Field State Beach) and enjoy the sand and sun with your pup on leash. This is a popular spot for local dog owners as well as visitors.
Finish out your time in Santa Cruz at another dog friendly beach and campground: New Brighton State Beach. Reserve a spot on the Northern end to be closer to the water.
When visiting SF, you and your four-legged friend will certainly get your steps in exploring the city! When you’re ready to relax, the beaches of Golden Gate National Recreation Area are surprisingly dog-friendly for protected land. Stop at Baker Beach for photos with the Golden Gate Bridge as the backdrop. Dogs are permitted off-leash north of Lobos Creek and on-leash south of there. Warning: parking fills up fast on the weekends!
For a less touristy and more expansive option, bring your pup to Ocean Beach, where they can roam off-leash through most of the area. You’ll likely have an easier time parking here, and on a windy day you can watch windsurfers take on the waves. For your best chance of sunshine, visit in September or October.
As you might expect, there aren’t traditional campsite options within the city. If you’re pretty comfortable with city life, there are overnight options like H. Dana Bower Rest Area and some well-reviewed street spots. (We recommend iOverlander for finding safe, legal parking options.) If you’re unsure about city street sleeping, continue on about an hour north of the city to the area around Samuel Taylor State Park. Dogs are allowed in the campground here and on Cross Marin Trail. If you plan to spend some more time at your campsite, go with a more unique location: Where the Fairies Live on Hipcamp. This pet-friendly property has games, activities for rent, and a magical tree!
The natural beauty of Northern California’s coast is evident all throughout Mendocino. First, take a stroll through paradise in the only oceanfront botanical gardens in the US, Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. Your pup might not be able to go back to their usual neighborhood streets after this lush walk! For some off-leash fun, drive 10 minutes north from the gardens to Noyo Beach. This is a great spot for kayaking or for taking in the bay views.
In the Mendocino area, we’re fans of Jug Handle Creek Farm. This location is listed as tent-only on Hipcamp, but in the description you’re able to see which sites fit a camper van. Just make sure to select an appropriate site, and then enjoy an abundance of activities in nature.
Northern California just keeps going! If you’re continuing up the coast, the seaside towns and scenic views don’t stop. Our last highlight is in the charming town of Ferndale. Explore the wild NorCal coast at Centerville Beach County Park, where dogs (and horses!) can roam. This is a great location for bird watching, whale watching in the spring, building a beach bonfire, and marveling at the impressive coastal cliffs.
With the coast so much quieter up here, you’ll have much better luck finding a coastal pull off to stop for the night. But if you’re up in NorCal, you won’t want to miss the Redwoods. Although dogs aren’t allowed on most trails in Humboldt State Park, the scenic drives in the area are well worth the visit.
Ready to explore? Add a dog kit to your Cabana trip to make travel more convenient and comfortable for you and your favorite travel buddy!